The air is cold for late September – so cold that I can see my breath. I expect this as the day is crystal clear and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks is a colder micro-climate. Dress for 35 degrees now and 60 degrees later. At the trailhead we scratch our names into the logbook with a beaver-chewed pencil. Ahead is a 2.4 mile trail with an ascent of 1,940 feet. At 4,098 feet above sea level, Cascade Mountain is the 36th highest peak in the Adirondacks. My first high peak.
I sit at a desk for a living and, at the time, do not exercise. At all. I know the trail will be long. The going will be steep and rocky. Somewhere beyond the tall pine and birch forests, about 4 hours away, is the summit. I know it’s there with Lake Placid and the Great Range arrayed in full view, and that’s where I’m headed.
From where I sit right now, I am hard-pressed to describe what I think my changed life will look like. Will I be freelancing? Picking up work as a “scribe for hire”? Giving a literary treatment to websites where the designers leave off? Filling a pipeline with short story and article submissions to magazines that, golly, like me? Still blogging?
I prefer not to lay out a plan so fully as to put every detail at the mercy of Murphy’s Law. For now it’s enough to just know that I will get there. I know that “there” is a life where I write. For a living. For now I simply mark my name down and get on the trail.
When the going gets tough
I am short. My stride is short. This means that the boulders that make up this switchback trail are a tough scramble for me. It is a terrestrial staircase winding upward, with irregularly shaped steps that often come up to my knee. Or waist. I am climbing in many places where my husband simply lifts his knee a bit higher to gain a foothold. Hikers are discouraged from leaving the path for a number of reasons (safety, additional erosion), but I leave it regularly. I have to.
A smooth boulder slick with rain and mud is as tall as my shoulders. I must go around, a little off the trail to make my way. For every step the husband takes, I take 2 or 3 more. It’s okay, I’m patient, even when women in sneakers and jeans with one bottle of water between them breeze by chatting like this is a walk through the supermarket. The summit is the same distance away for me as for them. I’ll get there, too.
My college degree is a BA in History with a minor in English. While this made for a lot of writing, I didn’t take a writing class until the last 6 weeks of my college career. I didn’t need the credit to graduate; it was just for fun. In essence, I have no training. No Master’s degree in writing (or in anything else for that matter). Nothing published, academically or otherwise. Try as I might, none of my jobs let me list “writer” or “writing” on my resume. So why should anyone trust me to write for them? The landscape is littered with writers waving a Master’s or even a PhD. They have the knowledge and the training and the right…right?
Well, I’m not on the same trail. But I am on a trail. Every time I take a class or attend an event full of artists, I feel, “This is where I belong.” It is a sense of contentment. This is why I characterize this journey as changing my life instead of just calling it “a career change.” I expect it to take longer for me, and to be harder to attain. But I also expect it to be the life I should have always been living.
Follow the blaze
Dried mud encrusts my boots and flakes off of the knees of my pants. We emerge from the rocky staircase and see the bald peak looming over us. It’s still a ways to go on bare rock surrounded by only air and more rock. Yellow paint blazes mark the safest way over the boulders, to the summit. At one point we approach a tricky area where I must hoist myself up, a little like getting out of a pool. Only I’m wearing a pack weighing about 20 lbs, a red counter-weight hanging off my back.
I don’t make it. But I don’t fall. I cling to the side of the boulder, fearful that shifting my weight will cause me to tumble and split my head open like a melon. Eternity passes in a few seconds while the husband realizes that I am, in fact, stuck. Only about 8 inches from the ground, but it might as well be 800 feet. With one hoist of my belt loop, I’m up (Thanks, husband). Terror begins to fade. We have more climbing ahead until I recline on the peak and look God in the eye.
This week I finished reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and highly recommended by RowdyKittens. The book is a collection of essays on writing and life lessons. Lamott is pragmatic; she blows no smoke. She warns that writing is hard living. The pursuit of publication is downright self-destructive. But if one must do it, there is a path she describes that will make the going easier. Not a breeze by any stretch of the imagination, but at least a way less likely to kill you.
I have this unshakable notion that if I stay on the trail, or something close to it, that I will get there. I will make over my life from one of droning unhappily for money, to one of a daily embrace with creativity that ends with a little something slipped into my pocket. Something that I don’t discover until later because I’m not looking for it.
When I reach that summit, I’ll tell you about the beautiful view.